European match-funding proposal would make £500m available to voluntary sector

Talks between the Big Lottery Fund (chief executive Dawn Austwick, pictured) and the European Commission are at an advanced stage

Dawn Austwick
Dawn Austwick

More than £500m of funds will be available to voluntary organisations if advanced talks between the Big Lottery Fund and European Commission about a match-funding scheme come to fruition, according to Dawn Austwick, chief executive of the BLF.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London today, Austwick said that the BLF planned to match more than £260m of lottery funding with money from Europe in order to boost funding opportunities for projects that address poverty and social inclusion.

The European Structural and Investment Fund package for 2014-2020 – comprising money from the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund – is due to be approved by the European Commission later this year. More than £260m of lottery funding for England and a similar amount from the ESIF would then be channelled into projects that help to improve skills, employability and education opportunities in disadvantaged communities.

Austwick said that £620,000 of lottery funding would be made available this summer to enable voluntary organisations in the country’s local enterprise partnership areas to start developing bids. The delivery mechanisms for the more than £500m available would be finalised towards the end of the year and applications would open in early 2015, she said.

But Austwick warned that charities should not get "too excited" because the funding agreement was very complicated and multi-faceted, and involved many partners. "There is a long way to go," she said, and getting to this point in negotiations had been "tortuous".

Austwick said that the BLF – rather than the ESIF – would have the authority to decide where the money went. "It is fundamentally about making sure we are in the driving seat in terms of choice," she said. Charities will be able to bid to deliver the work they think best meet the needs in their areas.

Only about 9 per cent of the last round of European Social Fund money was accessed by charities, with the majority of funding going to larger organisations or reaching the voluntary sector only through prime providers delivering top-down programmes. The new round represents a more community-led approach to European funding, according to the NCVO, because the priorities were decided by local local enterprise partnerships.

It is expected that the BLF will host the application process on its website and organisations will be required to show that they are aiming to deliver projects that fit with the local priorities identified by LEPs.

The NCVO and Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, have worked to encourage LEPs to allocate funding to social inclusion work.

Oliver Henman, head of partnerships and international at the NCVO, said in a blog that about eight LEPs had been chosen to explore a "local impact fund", which would bring in social investment capital to match-fund projects that aimed to deliver innovative solutions to local social challenges.

The funding is subject to approval by the European Commission.

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